Thinking More on the Natural Church Development Event

Thinking More on the Natural Church Development Event

What comes naturally to us? And what doesn’t?

Twenty-four of us from the Old First community gathered on Sun. Nov 18 after worship to share lunch, visit with one another, and hear from Rev. Cean James, UCC Associate Conference Minister of PA Southeast Conference talk about the life of a church, as part of a process called the Natural Church Development process.

Natural Church Development is a biblical and empirical research project into the principles of healthy church growth. Its approach is to look at which essentials of church life currently come most naturally to our church, and which do not. It aims to put a stop to the toiling and spinning that so often pervades church life and replace it with unforced healthy growth; to lighten and simplify our ministry workload by showing us exactly where our time, treasure, and talent would be best spent right now for the most fruitfulness.

Rev. James studied Biology before becoming a minister, so he used a biology framework to get us thinking about the life of Old First. Living organisms, whether a church, or an animal, plant, or microorganism, share the following characteristics to maintain our existence:

  • We need organization. We have some sort of structure.
  • We need energy.
  • We must adapt to our surroundings, to the time we are in.
  • We need to react well. Where reacting is an immediate response, adapting happens over a longer amount of time.
  • We reproduce.
  • We grow and develop.

If we don’t do these things, we don’t live on. For our church community, we can ask ourselves, are we organized? Where do we get our energy from? Are we adapting? Do we react? When stark, shocking things happen in the world around us, like Charlottesville or Pittsburg, or events that are less known, people will be asking and watching: “How will the church respond?” “Will Old First do or say anything?”

When we think about reproducing as a church, we can ask ourselves what will “provide the new us?” Rev. James challenged us as a progressive church to really think about this and not brush it off. He gave examples from Old First’s life that could offer meaning, comfort, belonging, etc… to someone who is not part of the community yet. It just may be the shelter and Saturday Cupboard, Old First’s belief and practice of being a welcoming and affirming church, and many others, that connects with someone. What is it about Old First that comforts us, sustains us, helps us, give us meaning? Share what the church has meant in our lives and invite those we know or meet to check out our community because there might be something there for them in this community. And as we grow and develop, we can ask ourselves “what do we look like next?”

Twenty-seven Old First leaders filled out surveys about what comes naturally for our community and what doesn’t, as part of the Natural Church Development process. Rev. James is collating them and will let us know what the surveys say. Stay tuned for what they say about our life together, and what comes next.

-Mimi Copp Johnson